Peters and Carper Lead Colleagues in Pressing EPA on Abrupt End to Contract Negotiations with Employee Union

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Tom Carper (D-DE), Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, today led 39 of their colleagues in pressing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on their decision to end negotiations with the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) and impose a seven-year contract over union objections. This forced contract undermines the collective bargaining process, and contains a number of concerning provisions including changes to the administrative grievance process, reductions in official time and evictions from agency office space.

In a letter to EPA Administrator Wheeler, the Senators expressed serious concern on the lasting effects this contract could have on the federal workforce, public health, and the environment. According to federal law, EPA must bargain and negotiate with any union before making contract resolutions. 

“EPA employees across the country directly support EPA’s mission to protect public health and the environment. The importance of EPA’s mission makes its actions toward its workforce all the more distressing,” wrote the Senators. “By unilaterally ending collective bargaining, EPA appears to have abdicated its statutory responsibility in order to impose contentious contract terms.”

Working families in Michigan and across the country rely on labor unions to fight for better wages and opportunity in negotiations. The Senators’ letter requests information and documentation regarding its decision to end negotiations and impose a seven-year contract on its employees. The Federal Labor-Management Relations Statute clearly outlines agencies’ responsibility to negotiate with employee unions and to do so in good faith. EPA appears to have abandoned this legal obligation in order to impose controversial contract terms. The letter also asks that the EPA return to the negotiating table with AFGE, and undertake a fair bargaining process in these and future negotiations with public sector labor unions.

The letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Michael F. Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bob Casey (D-PA), Chris Coons (D-DE), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Edward Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Patty Murray (D-WA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Tina Smith (D-MN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Jon Tester (D-MT), Tom Udall (D-NM), Mark Warner (D-VA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

The text of the letter to EPA Administrator Wheeler is copied below and available here:

October 22, 2019

 

The Honorable Andrew Wheeler
Administrator
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
1301 Constitution Ave, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20460

Dear Administrator Wheeler: 

We write regarding the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) troubling decision to end negotiations with the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) and unilaterally impose a contract on thousands of employees. We urge EPA to fulfill its legal obligation to bargain in good faith and return to the negotiating table with AFGE.

AFGE Council 238 represents nearly 7,500 EPA employees, including some of the most talented scientists, engineers, and environmental specialists in the country. EPA employees across the country directly support EPA’s mission to protect public health and the environment. The importance of EPA’s mission makes its actions toward its workforce all the more distressing.

After failing to settle a dispute with AFGE over applicable ground rules, EPA abruptly announced earlier this year that it would forego further negotiations, and instead opted to implement a contract over union objections on July 8, 2019. This contract cuts telework and official time, and eliminates employees’ ability to challenge adverse actions through the union grievance process. Further, since the implementation of this contract, we have heard concerns from AFGE that union representatives have been evicted from office, meeting and bulletin board space to which they have historically had access. These are sensitive issues that should have been negotiated in the course of good-faith bargaining.

The EPA’s actions appear to show a disregard for federal labor-management law. The Federal Labor-Management Relations Statute clearly outlines agencies’ obligation to bargain with employee unions and to do so in good faith. By unilaterally ending collective bargaining, EPA appears to have abdicated its statutory responsibility in order to impose contentious contract terms.

To better understand EPA’s decision to end negotiations and impose a contract on its employees, we respectfully submit the following questions, to be answered no later than November 15, 2019:

  1. In its negotiations with AFGE Council 238, did EPA ever seek assistance from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, as is the protocol laid out in §7119 of the Federal Labor-Management Relations Statute? If not, please explain.

  2. Did the White House, Office of Management & Budget (OMB), or any entity outside of EPA provide direction or guidance on the contract terms that EPA has imposed? If so, please describe the nature and source of this direction or guidance.

    In addition, please provide all documents and communications created since May 2018 between EPA officials and any offices or personnel within the Executive Office of the President related to federal labor management policies and practices, negotiating collective bargaining agreements with federal workers, or interacting with federal employee unions.

  3. Did the White House, OMB or any entity outside EPA provide direction or guidance on EPA’s decision to end the collective bargaining process and unilaterally impose a new contract on AFGE? If so, please describe the nature and source of this input.

    In addition, please provide all documents and communications since May 2018 between EPA officials and any offices or personnel within the Executive Office of the President related to EPA’s decision to end the collective bargaining process with AFGE 238.

  4. What discretion did your negotiating team have to deviate from the seven-year contract term, the grievance proposal, or guidelines OMB or any other entity may have issued to EPA management?

As our country faces increasingly dire environmental and public health challenges, EPA must be prepared to meet these challenges head-on. It simply cannot do so with a demoralized and weakened workforce. We urge EPA management to return to the bargaining table to negotiate in good faith. Furthermore, as EPA enters the early stages of bargaining with its second-largest union, the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), we hope that EPA will meaningfully engage in those negotiations and avoid further alienation of its workforce.

Thank you very much for your attention to this matter.  We look forward to your prompt response. 

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